Chapter Ninety-Eight:


"Seriously, how much stuff do y' people own?"

From where she was crouched pulling baby clothes out of the large box marked 'Les Petites' in black ink, Mercy LeBeau smiled at the familiar sound of Emil complaining as the boys staggered in with another box.

"De scary t'ing, homme," Remy grunted as he and Lucas followed in the door, lugging a mattress that wobbled at the top, teetering on the edge of falling in either direction at any moment. "Is dat dere's more bein' shipped down in a few days."

"Y' have got t' me kiddin' me."

"Hey, if ya'll think this is bad, ya should see the truck with Regan's stuff," Sam drawled from the ladder where he was hanging a picture of the Xavier Institute.

Mercy chuckled, having been forewarned by Marie that the youngest member of their newly formed team was more than a little high-maintenance, and had enough boxes to fill their jet to capacity.

"She's a teenage girl, homme, she's got an excuse," Remy shot back at him over his shoulder as he leaned the mattress against the wall. "What's yo' excuse fo' de dozen boxes o' clothes ya had Marie haul in? Yo' from de south, y' know dat all y' need is shorts an' a good pair of flip-flops."

"You and your obsession with flip-flops," Lucas said, rolling his eyes.

At Sam's puzzled expression, Emil grinned. "If he could get away wit' wearin' dem on a heist, he'd do it, mon ami."

"Maybe ya should hit up Forge, sugah," Marie's voice carried into the room from above them, and Mercy looked up as her sister-in-law floated down from the grand staircase wearing a pair of gym shorts and a green tank top that matched her eyes. "Ah bet he could rig up a set o' sandals fit for a thief."

Her accent, Mercy noticed with a touch of melancholy, had lost a little bit of the Cajun twang during the year she'd spent in New York.

It still seemed unreal, that Remy and Marie had spent an entire year living somewhere else, away from the LeBeau mansion and the close-knit family of the Thieves Guild of New Orleans.

Mercy couldn't imagine going a few weeks without the ones she loved, let alone a year.

But, of course, that wasn't exactly how it had been for Remy and Marie, was it? There were people who Marie loved in New York, her biological family and the friends she'd once considered to be her real family. And judging from what she'd seen during the few visits she'd made to Westchester, there were at least a few people there who Remy was clearly fond of.

It hadn't been easy to travel to New York and see with her own eyes that two members of her family- four if she counted Tessa and Lucas, who they'd all known would go wherever Remy and Marie went- so happy with another family.

She'd hadn't needed Henri to point out the hypocrisy of feeling that way, when the X-men must have looked at the years they'd had stolen with Rogue while she was with the Thieves Guild in the same light. Henri had pointed it out just the same, of course, and it left her with a heartsick feeling of guilt in her chest, but she couldn't help the way it felt.

Because ever since the night they'd been forced to flee from the Sentinels, Mercy had comforted herself with the knowledge that as soon as it was safe, they would come home.

In Westchester, though, it had suddenly struck her that maybe New Orleans wasn't home for them anymore.

So when the phone call came, when Remy called to tell Jean-Luc that they would be returning to New Orleans, this time with several X-men in tow, Mercy had immediately begun planning the Welcome Home party. Remy had wired money, a large sum provided by Charles Xavier, for Jean-Luc to acquire a sprawling manor estate in a parish just outside of the city. The Guild's go-to-guy for real estate had found just what they were looking for, and managed to get it at a steal- pun intended.

As soon as the deal was in the works, Mercy had gotten a call herself, this time from Marie.

A few shopping trips with Bella later, they'd furnished the majority of the manor, right down to the French Quarter themed coasters, before the X-treme X-men even set foot in Louisiana.

The 'X-treme' bit had been a joke proposed by the X-man Bobby Drake, but it had somehow seemed fitting for a team comprised of thieves, reformed terrorists, and boys whose powers could level a city block, so the name had stuck.

Why everything with the X-men had to have an 'X' in it, Mercy would never know.

"Ya in there, Merc?"

Mercy blinked, and looked up to see her husband gazing down at her with a curious glint in his eye, so she smiled. "Jus' t'inking, mon amour."

"Well, y' know what too much t'inking does t' de brain, chere," Henri quipped with a grin, and nodded in the direction of his brother. "Jus' look at Remy if y' need a reminder. Il es fou."

His brother, naturally, heard that even across the main foyer.

"Dis from the homme who took up ol' Gris-Gris on a certain infamous dare all fo' de last beer?" Remy defended his sanity, by questioning Henri's, and when Henri winced, Mercy knew she really didn't want to know.

Not unusual when the boys were involved.

"Like ya have any room t' talk, sugah," Marie chided her husband, even as she lifted a stack of four mattresses over her head and began to rise into the air again. There wasn't much heavy lifting left to do- Mercy had hired a moving company to deliver the furniture she purchased for the house- but it went unsaid that anything even remotely heavy would be hauled up the grand staircase by Marie.

Watching her ascent, Mercy wished she'd thought to wait until their arrival to get the heavy dressers and bed-frames moved upstairs.

It would have been a hell of a lot cheaper to have Marie do it all.

"Has anyone seen my laptop?" a female voice demanded from somewhere on one of the two upper floors.

"Ya just had it an hour ago, how could ya lose it already?" Sam bellowed back.

Regan's response was, naturally, not suited for little ears, and Mercy was glad she'd left Jacques with Bella and Theo for the day.

Marie assured her that Regan was, deep down, sort of pleasant. Really, really deep down. In a 'likely to cast an illusion over your mind where spiders devour your eyes if you take the last soda' kind of way.

Mercy still wasn't seeing it.

"She seems nice," Emil said to no one in particular, his lopsided grin a telltale sign of trouble.

"Non," Remy said without looking up from the box he'd opened.

"I didn' say anyt'ing!"

"I heard y' t'ink it. De answer is non. Unequivocally non."

"Y' are such a buzz kill dese days, y' know dat? Fat'erhood has totally ruined y'."

"You know what they say, man," Neal Shaara piped up, entering the room with a PlayStation4 under one arm and an X-box under the other. "If Dad says no, ask Mom."

Emil tilted his head, considering, then grinned and shook his head, no doubt envisioning Marie's reaction if he were to ask her if he could have the little bitchy one.

"Guys," Neal said solemnly, and the men all looked in his direction. "It's time to make the hard decisions. What room do we put the game stations in? The living room, where we can play to our hearts content, or the conference room where we can use the wall-to-wall screen?"

"Yo' fo'gettin' de t'ird option, mon ami," Remy retorted. "De Danger Room, where we can wire it in t' de system an' play in virtual reality."

For a moment every male in the room went starry-eyed, no doubt envisioning the countless hours they could waste playing video games. When they thought they were going to have all that free time, in between training, saving the world and dealing with four month-old infants who wanted attention around the clock, she had no idea.

"An' dat's why I'm de leader," Remy said smugly.

"Your wife is the leader," Lucas reminded him evenly, and Remy shrugged.

"Same difference," he declared wryly. "We took de vows- what's mine is hers, what's hers is mine… an' dat includes de right t' boss de lot o' y' around."

"Dat mean dat yo' sharin' de three a.m. feedin' duty?" Mercy enquired pointedly.

"Man, you guys are getting out of bed to feed them at the same time half the X-men are stumbling home from the bars," Neal observed in horrified awe.

"Not here, mon ami," Emil informed him, clapping the dark-haired mutant on the shoulder. "Dere's no such t'ing as last call in N'awlins. De party never stops, as long as y' got de money t' keep on partyin'."

"No last call?" Neal echoed, and Mercy would bet anything the younger members of the X-treme team would be spending the evening in the city.

"Jus' keep in mind that there are sleepin' babies in de house when y' stumble in," Remy warned him gruffly. "Once dey wake up, dey're like de Energizer Bunny- dey jus' keep goin' an' goin'… an' if y' wake dem, m'gonna drop dem off in yo' room first t'ing in de morning t' make sure y' have de worst wakeup call o' yo' life. Comprendez vous?"

"Oui, mon capitone," Neal spouted out with a wry salute.

For a moment Mercy considered reminding Remy of how many times he'd woken up her son when Jacques was a baby, but she supposed she should just be grateful that she wasn't going to be woken up by the crying twins if anyone did interrupt their sleep.

Jean-Luc and Tante Mattie had put up a fight against Remy, Marie and the twins living in the X-treme X-men manor, rather than in the LeBeau household, but in the end they'd given way to Marie's insistence that she wasn't going to move an entire team down the entire Eastern seaboard only to tell them they could be neighbors. While Mercy would miss the early morning coffee she'd always shared with Marie, after witnessing Neal and Sam horsing around with their powers, she had to admit it was probably a good idea that no one had suggested the X-men move in.

Jacques wasn't happy that his baby cousins weren't going to be living in his room, and although Mercy had tried to explain that even if his aunt and uncle had moved back in the babies would have gotten their own room, he was still insisting he needed more pillows on his bed so the babies could sleep with him.

It was adorable, of course, but it had only led to Tante Mattie hinting that the boy needed a little brother or sister, since the twins had each other, and she'd scowled something fierce when Mercy informed her they weren't having any more children.

Now, as she looked down at the enormous pile of little pink sundresses that the various family and friends had purchased for Ariane, Mercy smiled wistfully.

It would have been nice to have a daughter, but one child was more than enough for her.

She'd just have to enjoy being an aunt, and spoiling little Ari rotten with whatever she wanted. The girl was a LeBeau, after all, she would definitely have an eye for shopping- it was in the blood.

Because as much as the boys argued otherwise, thievery was essentially the same thing as shopping.

Only without paying.

"Ya'll jus' be sure an' remember that Regan is underage," Marie said sternly as she floated back down for more heavy lifting. "Lord knows she's prob'ly got a fake ID on her, but Ah'm not comin' down t' bail any o' ya'll outta jail."

The boys grumbled their acknowledgement, and Mercy smiled to herself.

Marie had already picked up the "mom" tone nicely.

"Ah put all the boxes that were marked in the right bedrooms," Marie informed the boys as she landed. "There were a few wit'out names on 'em so Ah stuck those in the hall."

"They're probably mine," Neal confessed. "My sharpie ran out when I was packing."

"Well next time walk down the hall an' get another one," Marie told him with a scowl. "Ya have no idea how hard it is t' try an' keep track o' who's stuff is in what box. It's gonna take me days t' get everythin' unpacked an' where it belongs."

"I will assist you," Tessa offered, and Marie smiled at her as the telepath handed her a box that Mercy assumed Marie had been looking for, even though she didn't say anything.

"Some days Ah wish Ah had yo' brain, Tess," Marie sighed as she headed for the stairs, and Mercy was inclined to agree.

To think of all those times Jacques had misplaced his blanket, and she'd run around the house, frazzled, trying to find it as he cried himself hoarse because he simply could not go anywhere without his favorite blanket, never mind that it was filthy and falling apart.

Tessa's computerized brain would have recalled instantly where he last had it, no matter how long ago that was.

They'd call me SuperMom, Mercy thought wistfully.

"Sage?" Lucas' gruff voice drew Mercy's attention out of her daydreams, and she looked to where the naturally pale-skinned telepath was leaning against the wall, looking several shades paler than normal, if that was even possible. "Are you all right?"

"Yes," Tessa said flatly, though she didn't look it. "I'm just..." she trailed off, disoriented.

"Mebbe y' should sit down fo' a while, petite," Remy suggested with a frown. "Y' prob'ly overdid it t'day. Even yo' computer o' a brain can overheat if it runs too long an' too hard."

Though Mercy was sure Tessa opened her mouth to object, Lucas didn't give her the chance as he crossed the room in two long strides and took her by the arm, leading her wordlessly to the couch, where he promptly deposited her on the cushions. "Sit, woman," he ordered, and Tessa coolly raised an eyebrow up at his towering form.

Here it comes, Mercy thought, half-amused and half-exasperated.

The entire Guild was more than used to the spats between Lucas Bishop and Tessa Sage that inevitably stemmed from Lucas' rather brusque way of showing concern for the woman they all- including Tessa herself- knew he loved, even if the odds were that neither of them would ever speak of it.

Judging by the looks exchanged between Neal and Sam, the X-men were used to it by now, too.

"Tess?"

Marie's quivering voice brought the entire room to a halt, everyone immediately frozen at the frightened note they heard. Mercy let go of the baby blanket she'd been folding and looked to her sister-in-law, who was leaning on the banister of the staircase, nearly as pale as Tessa was.

"Marie?" Remy was at her side in an instant, reaching out for her, but she flinched back from his touch and he frowned. "What is it, chere?"

"Don' touch me," Marie whispered, and the shimmering in her green eyes spilled onto her cheeks. "Don' touch me."

"Nobody's gon' touch y', Marie," Remy told her softly, raising his hands as if convince her of this. When she didn't relax, he tried for a grin that came off pained. "Didn' t'ink y' were serious when y' tol' me I could fo'get 'bout touchin' y' if I didn' start changin' more dirty diapers, beb."

Marie didn't respond, just shook her head tearfully, and sank down onto the steps as if she'd just had her reason for living stolen away.

Remy started to kneel down in front of her, but Tessa's voice cut through the room.

"Don't touch her, Remy."

Now they all looked back to Tessa, who was looking a little less pale now, but still hadn't risen from the couch. "Why not?" Remy demanded. "What de hell is goin' on?"

"Her powers," Tessa said softly, her eyes sorrowful as they locked on Marie.

Like a lightswitch being flipped off, Mercy saw the light go out of Remy's face, saw all the happiness of the past few years drain away. The sadness in its wake was heartbreaking, but it was nothing compared to the raw anguish in Marie's eyes as she buried her face in her arms and wept.

"Oh, chere," Remy murmured, gently touching her hair.

He whispered something to her that Mercy couldn't hear, his fingers lightly brushing her dark locks as lightly as a feather might, ever vigilant not to press too hard or too long lest her a few strands of hair somehow part to expose his skin to her scalp.

"But yo' wearin' yo' bracelet," Mercy finally managed to find her voice. "Why isn' it workin'?"

Marie didn't look up from her crying, and Remy just kept stroking her hair and whispering to her, so Mercy turned to the others, irrationally demanding an explanation, as if their mutant genes meant they should know everything about mutant powers.

"Maybe it's broken," Neal suggested. "I bet Forge can fix it."

"Or maybe the stone's used up," Sam said softly, voicing the fear none of them wanted to express. "It's been five years…"

Five years hardly seemed so short, but Mercy knew it had been five years Marie wouldn't have had without the bracelet. Magneto's gift had allowed her sister-in-law more than just the chance to find love, it had allowed her to be free within her own skin the way that everyone else took for granted.

It had allowed her to be a mother.

Mercy swallowed, her chest aching fiercely as she realized that Marie would never again be able to touch her children without gloves.

Never again would she kiss their downy hair, or nuzzle their little faces.

She'd never kiss skinned knees or wipe away tears with her fingertips, or any of the other tender moments that every mother had with their child.

Oh, Mercy thought wretchedly. Oh, Marie.

"There is another possibility."

Mercy blinked back the tears in her eyes as Tessa rose on shaky legs. Lucas reached out a hand to steady her, and for once she let him, her focus solely on Marie. Remy looked over his shoulder at Tessa as she approached, but Marie kept her face buried.

"De quoi parlez-vous?" Remy demanded, and there was a desperation in his eyes that frightened Mercy.

"It may not be the bracelet that failed," Tessa responded evenly, her eyes glued to the top of Marie's hair. "It may have been Marie's concentration."

Now Marie did lift her head, her eyes red and puffy. "That doesn' make any sense! The bracelet negates mah base power round the clock!" she argued hoarsely. "Ah don' hafta concentrate on mah powers at all, except fo' when Ah want t' access one o' the powers Ah've imprinted."

"Precisely," Tessa said.

"Precisely what?" Rogue demanded sharply.

"Right before you brushed against my arm, you said you wished you had my brain," Tessa reminded her. "You wanted my powers."

"That was jus' talk!"

"Perhaps," Tessa agreed, in a tone that said she saw right through Marie's protest. "But for just a moment, you genuinely wanted my abilities- and when our skin touched, your mind told your powers to imprint mine."

Marie stared at her incredulously, and just shook her head, refusing to believe it.

"There is one way to know for sure," Tessa said, extending her hand. "Touch me and see what happens."

"No," Marie replied miserably, and when Tessa took a step closer her back pressed into the steps as she leaned away. "Ah said no, Tessa!"

The telepath stilled and the two women stared one another down for a long moment, their equally stubborn wills boring into one another, neither willing to look away. It was futile, as Mercy knew from experience that the two might very well be the most willful people on the planet. Their staring might have gone on for minutes, had Regan not appeared at the top of the staircase and decided to take matters into her own hands.

Before Marie could react, the girl was down the stairs and pressing her bare hands to the sides of Marie's face, fingers splayed to maximize contact.

With a cry, Marie wrenched herself forward, knocking Remy onto his ass in the process, but she ignored his curse as she turned to stare at Regan in horror. The teenager was now slouching against the banister, looking rather put off but no worse for wear.

Mercy assumed that the half-pained expression of scorn on her lips was a fixture of her personality, and not a result of Marie's powers.

As for Marie, she was nearly petrified, looking for all the world like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. Her eyes were wide and frantic, and the lack of color in her face made Mercy fearful that she might faint.

"Well," Remy said from the floor, looking up at the girls with baffled relief. "Guess dat settles dat."

"Ah… Ah didn' hurt ya?" Marie marveled softly.

"Does it look like you did?" Regan demanded, and if not for the incredibly selfless gesture she'd just given, Mercy would have liked to pop her for the mouthiness.

Then again, Regan was Marie's problem, not hers.

"Touch Remy," Tessa ordered. "But this time concentrate on taking his powers."

Wordlessly, Marie turned and reached a trembling hand to her husband's face, and brushed the tip of one finger against his cheek. Remy swayed on his feet and leaned against the banister of the staircase, but it was Marie that Mercy looked at, and when Marie opened her eyes they were not the vibrant green Mercy was expecting, but a fierce green burning against the dark canvas of black sclera.

"Merde," Marie cursed, looking down at her hands as they glowed a familiar scarlet.

"Uh, you're not going to blow anything up, are you?" Neal finally asked after a long moment. "Because if you are, my bedroom could use another window."

Mercy cracked a smile while Sam rolled his eyes and Henri shot Neal a look that was often directed at Emil for unnecessary comments, but despite it all Marie chuckled, closing her hands into fists as she absorbed the charge back into her skin.

"Then ya can pay fo' a contractor t' come out," she told him. She looked back up at Regan and smiled, and to Mercy's surprise the gothic girl's lips twitched upward in response.

Tessa moved forward and grabbed Marie by the wrist, and with the flick of a finger she removed the bracelet that Marie had not taken off once in five years. Marie's eyes widened in shock, and there was a touch of apprehension there as Tessa nodded impatiently to Remy, but after a pause Marie obediently reached out for her husband again, and touched her fingers to his cheek. When he smiled in response, she let out a shaky breath that was half-sob, and pressed her entire hand to his cheek.

"Y' feel dat, chere?" Remy murmured huskily. "Dat's all y', no'ting but y' an' me. Y' did it, Marie."

"But how?" Marie asked, and looked to Tessa.

"Your mind has undergone drastic change in the past few years," Tessa answered. "Over time, I noticed that you could more easily recall the imprinted powers you've stored, with less of the psyche's influence."

"Yes," Marie agreed, bewildered. "Ah used Magneto's power last month t' move the X-jet, an' Ah didn' have a single dream 'bout Auschwitz."

"I suspect that with the bracelet controlling your absorption power, your brain began to trust that your skin was safe again." Tessa knelt to Marie's level in one, fluid motion, and Mercy had a moment to envy her gracefulness. "It finally forgot the trauma of your powers manifesting, and allowed itself to begin to heal, and to develop the way it should have had Cody Robbins not fallen victim to the onset of your powers."

"Yo' sayin' that the reason Ah couldn' control mah powers all these years, was that mah brain stopped growin' when Ah absorbed Cody?" Marie inquired skeptically, wrinkling her nose.

"In a manner of speaking, yes," Tessa confirmed.

Marie closed her eyes, and Mercy saw a spot of wetness pooling on her lashes.

"Try to bring up one of your imprinted powers," Tessa told her, touching her knee to bring her back to reality. Marie nodded, and after a moment the hand on her knee fell right through her leg to the step she was sitting on.

The translucent Marie smiled, and Tessa removed her hand, pleased.

"Shadowcat, very good."

"Oh mah God," Marie sighed, then laughed. "Oh mah God."

"Y' said it, chere," Remy agreed, and Tessa stepped back so that he could lean forward to embrace his wife. He pressed a kiss to her cheek, then the other cheek, then their lips met in a gentle kiss, and when they parted Marie laughed again, wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand. "Guess y' won' be needin' dat bracelet no more."

"Guess not," Marie agreed.

"Shall I dispose of it then?" Tessa asked, looking down at the bracelet in her hand. "Or do you want to send it to Forge so he can study it?"

Marie opened her mouth to answer, but then she paused, and her lips curved upward.

"Regan, sugah," she addressed the teenager behind her without turning around. "Will ya get me one o' those black skull an' crossbone envelopes ya have on yo' desk?"

"Now?" Regan asked, with mild annoyance, then sighed and trudged up the stairs to her room.

"What are y' t'inkin', chere?" Remy asked Marie, and Mercy was wondering the same thing, but Marie just smiled a secretive little smile, and they both knew they wouldn't get an answer from her, so Mercy stood and looked around the room.

"I t'ink dis calls fo' a celebration o' de alcoholic kind," she announced. "Who wants a drink?"

Hands shot up around the room, and Emil followed her into the kitchen to help dig through the boxes of dishes in search of glasses while she pulled a bottle of wine from the newly stocked refrigerator.

Over the course of the next week, as she helped the X-treme X-men acclimate to the city, laughing at Sam's zeal for Cajun food and rolling her eyes as Regan's complaints about the mosquitoes and watching Neal try his hand at some of the Guild's training exercises, Mercy wondered often what had become of the bracelet that had freed Marie from the imprisonment of her own powers.

When Christmas rolled around and the Westchester X-men paid a visit, she got her answer.

Scott Summers had brown eyes, after all.


Translations:

Il es fou- he is crazy

Comprendez vous?- Do you understand?

De quoi parlez-vous?- What are you talking about?


A/N: Sorry again for the delay in posting, life always seems to take up all my free time! It's hard to believe there's only two more chapters to go on this story, but at least then I'll have more time to work on "Rogue Evolution"- because that one is going to be a long one!

This chapter is dedicated to 1Typ0 with my heartfelt gratitude for alerting me to the fact that this story was being plagiarized right here on . I owe you one!

~BQ~